One-stop Shop Dispute Resolution Policy Brief

HiiL POLICY BRIEF

One-stop Shop Dispute Resolution

March 22, 2022

One-stop shop dispute resolution systems humanise legal procedures by giving people more control over how their disputes will be resolved. They gradually escalate the dispute resolution process, starting from allowing the disputing parties to negotiate, to having a neutral third party intervention. In this journey, users of the system have a range of available options via which they can resolve the problem, namely: negotiation, mediation and decisions by a judge. Some systems also provide aftercare solutions to the disputing parties. The integration of technology into the dispute resolution processes makes the platforms not only user-centred but also accessible.  

Although the enthusiasm for one-stop dispute resolution systems is huge, and many courts now operate online dispute resolution modules, few examples of large scale implementation exist. In this policy brief, we list a number of critical success factors that we derived from conversations with leading experts in this field. We also used our experience in dispute system design projects and national programmes oriented towards implementing what is now called people-centred justice. Whilst this remains work in progress, these insights can help ministries of justice, court leaders and private initiatives that are considering implementing one-stop shop dispute resolution systems to focus their efforts. 

During the next few years, we expect the best systems to specialise in one dispute type. They are likely to grow fast if lawyers and judges have a clear role in the workflow and if public-private partnerships are fleshed out in detail. Monitoring outcomes and quantifying impact is also expected to improve, strengthening the case for one-stop shop dispute resolution systems, which have a huge potential for ensuring equal access to justice for all.

1. Seamless process of dispute resolution

In a difficult conflict, people look for pathways to resolution. The steps going forward may include some form of guided reflection, obtaining advice about rights and possible outcomes, reestablishing communication with the other party, and negotiation and seeking the help of third parties such as mediators. If the conflict is not being resolved amicably, the last resort may involve the courts. This can result in an agreement between the disputing parties or a solution imposed by a judge. one-stop shop dispute resolution systems aim to integrate these steps into one seamless flow (see the example of a simplified three step model below) [1].

Ideally, the process guarantees that disputing parties achieve outcomes which help them move forward with their lives. When elements of the resolution process are supported by modern communication technology, it is called online dispute resolution. One-stop shop dispute resolution (OSSDR) systems, using the potential of IT, are widely seen as a gamechanger. They are promoted by thought leader Richard Susskind under the title: Online Courts and the Future of Justice [2]. Researchers write about one-stop shop dispute resolution systems from a dispute design perspective [3] or show how to integrate current resolution services into a seamless justice journey for the person seeking access to justice [4]. Technology firms including Tyler and Matterhorn specialise in offering the supporting technologies. Government agencies and private initiatives currently offer one-stop shop dispute resolution systems. Some prominent examples include the Civil Resolution Tribunal in British Columbia, SAMA, Presolve360 and RDO in India, Immediation in Australia, Utatuzi Center in Kenya and Uitelkaar in the Netherlands. At HiiL we follow these trends closely (see our 2016 Trend Report ODR and The Courts: The Promise of 100% Access to Justice?) and map them on the One-Stop Shop Dispute Resolution page on our Justice Dashboard where the reader can find more information.

1.1 Unlocking the potential

Although the enthusiasm is huge, and many courts now operate online dispute resolution modules, few examples of large scale implementation exist. In this policy brief, we investigate what holds back this promising development. Experts from a number of jurisdictions shared their experiences and identified a number of critical success factors. Whilst this remains work in progress, these insights can help ministries of justice, court leaders and private initiatives that are considering implementing one stop shop dispute resolution systems to focus their efforts.

Our analysis below shows that there are quite a few barriers to scaling one stop shop dispute resolution systems. At times, they face issues with integration with the formal legal systems especially when connecting a guided settlement trajectory with adjudication. Funding challenges also remain, especially when such platforms are started as private initiatives. For public sector one stop shop dispute resolution systems, integration across the different government departments is an impediment in some jurisdictions. 

This policy brief takes into consideration the discussions that emerged during the roundtable discussions of the HiiL working group on one stop shop dispute resolution. Along with the discussions, we factor in experiences of setting up one stop shop dispute resolution systems and combine both to make policy recommendations that can facilitate their scaling. 

1.2 Types of conflicts addressed and benefits

One-stop shop dispute resolution systems tend to work on justice problems that are more urban in nature. They are specialised in nature, and may deal with family issues, employment problems, consumer complaints, neighbour conflicts, personal injury claims, tax issues or conflicts with local governments. They address justice issues via mediation,conciliation and adjudication, but may also include support services such as referrals to housing or financial services for separating couples. These services are provided both by public and private sector entities and have the potential to develop as public private partnerships over time. 

For most pressing justice problems, agencies exist that already take on information and mediation roles. Ombudsmen and specialised tribunals are functioning. These stakeholders offer distinct services such that the parties to the dispute have to switch to different dispute resolution bodies. one-stop shop dispute resolution systems offer a seamless integration of all different stages of dispute resolution.  

one-stop shop dispute resolution systems and procedures tend to create an integrated “treatment” geared towards an agreement rather than a judgement. Court decisions may be needed, but they are less about sanctioning past conduct and more about how solutions work for the future. It provides a platform for the disputants to identify issues, diagnose their problem and be informed about possible solutions.

Besides the obvious advantages for users, these procedures can also relieve overburdened court systems and legal aid budgets. The information collected during facilitation of standardised processes that are offered to many clients stimulates learning and further innovation.  

1.3 Methodology

To answer the question “How might we increase access to justice for people by scaling and improving one-stop shop dispute resolution systems?”, we formed a working group of external experts. To guide the discussions with working group members, we identified the following design questions:

The working group engaged with these design questions and from this dialogue emerged the critical success factors that can help in scaling one-stop shop dispute resolution systems.

To select members for the group, we identified six experts that represented diverse demographics and expertise (innovators, policymaker, investor, legal professional, civil society) from within and outside HiiL’s network. They are: 

*Shannon Salter stepped down from her role in February 2022 following her appointment as the Deputy Attorney General of British Columbia. 

We organised four roundtable discussions between June to February 2022 to facilitate the conversations on the design questions among the experts. 

This policy brief summarises the findings of the roundtable discussions and lessons learnt from experiences of working group members and other innovators in setting up one-stop shop dispute resolution systems including: 

2. Critical success factors

In the sections below, we identified six critical success factors based on discussions with working group members and examples of and to scale one-stop shop dispute resolution systems. We also include main takeaways from experiences of the working group members and other innovators of setting up one-stop shop dispute resolution systems.

2.1 User-centred design of the specialised, one-stop process

The civil justice system emerged from interactions between lawyers, courts and attempts to codify procedures [5]. Gradually, this has led to litigation systems with complex rules and procedures, which can only be operated by those with specialised knowledge and access to case law. Moreover, courts radiate a certain level of formality, and a particular kind of dress-code and language. This influences the user experience of a court procedure as a trajectory to a fair solution [6].

Assistance by a lawyer is not always a solution and may be unaffordable. Several studies indicate that self-represented litigants form a significant proportion of the people who use the court system. For example, in Canada, 40% of the litigants in provincial family hearings are self-represented litigants [7]. In some states in the USA, more than 80% of the litigants are self-represented [8]. Here, the responsibility of manoeuvring the justice system has been put on everyday people, instead of adapting justice systems to needs of users [9].

Experts of one-stop shop dispute resolution system emphasise the importance of adopting a user-centred design when developing the system. Drawing on the approach taken by the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal when designing the system, we share the following insights on on how to implement user-centred design:

2.2 Solving the ‘Submission Problem’: Getting the other party to the table

A dispute resolution process can only be effective if both parties participate in the process. They need to be willing to interact, negotiate, agree to use a particular facilitator, and/or submit to the decision of a neutral third party. If the party for whom solving the problem is most urgent starts a procedure, he or she needs to know that there is a high probability that the other party will participate as well. William Landes and Richard Poser have called this the ‘Submission Problem’ [11].

Solving the submission problem — making sure both parties agree to use the same process to address their dispute — remains a critical challenge for the one-stop shop dispute resolution systems. This is true for other dispute resolution procedures such as mediation and arbitration where the disputing parties have the option of participating i.e it is voluntary. Factors that prevent a disputing party from agreeing with the dispute methods can be lack of trust in decisions of third parties, communication gaps and hostility or disagreements between the disputing parties, tactics to undermine the other disputing party and many more [12].

In order to resolve the Submission Problem, the working group members shared the following insights:

2.3 Monitoring outcomes

Monitoring the outcomes that dispute resolution platforms provide to users helps in assessing the effectiveness of the services as well as in identifying any gaps.  Monitoring outcomes is also instrumental in attracting investors who are looking for measurable returns on their investment and social impact. If the dispute resolution procedure is government-led, outcome monitoring enables governments who undertake performance-based budgeting to assess procedure, identify the ones that are effective in resolving disputes [15] and therefore should continue to receive funds.

Examples of key outcomes that are safeguarded by separation agreements and family court interventions [16]

Currently, there are no industry standards to monitor outcomes. To aid the monitoring of outcomes provided by one-stop shop dispute resolution systems, following are some insights that we developed along with the working group members:

2.4 Form effective public-private partnerships

In the current justice system, stimulating the peaceful resolution of disputes is mostly a partnership between public courts and private lawyers. Additional roles are available for experts informing the courts or assisting the lawyers in building their case. One- stop shop dispute resolution systems require new partnerships, in which there is also a place for providers of legal design, standardised information, help desk services, IT systems supporting resolution, facilitators of the resolution process and specialised interventions for particular disputes. Establishing effective public-private partnerships is crucial for a successful one-stop shop dispute resolution procedure.  

The government agency or court that is aiming to set up a one-stop shop dispute resolution process can develop its own platform. But the public sector may be reinventing the wheel, if platforms performing certain dispute resolution tasks have already been developed and can be integrated with court procedures. 

In that regard, the working group members came up with the following options for creating synergies between public and private sector players: 

2.5 Government stimulating initiatives: opening the regulatory doors

For one-stop shop dispute resolution systems to scale, an enabling regulatory and financial environment is a prerequisite. Courts, legal aid boards and other regulatory bodies need to carefully consider how to bring about structural changes in the way disputes are resolved. They may be tempted to invest in digitising current court procedures, instead of redesigning them. Online platforms may be developed on a project basis, without a long term strategy towards implementation [19]. It may be unclear which government agency is responsible for effective dispute resolution and adjudication. In the US, for instance, the state courts have a key role and judges will need to accept the fact that they are the legal sector’s regulator and the ones who can take initiatives [20].

To develop an enabling regulatory environment, we came up with the following insights along with the working group members:

2.6 Sustainable revenue model

One-stop dispute resolution systems need a sustainable revenue stream. The revenues have to cover the operational costs and the investments needed to design and implement the system. Investments can be substantial. Operators need to build and upgrade technology that can support the dispute resolution process. This may include the use of AI-driven chat-bots or mechanisms like blind-bidding. But most of the work in dispute resolution will still consist of efficient human interventions that have to be supported by protocols and standard operating procedures. The budget will also have to include marketing and advertising costs to expand the customer base. 

The working group members came up with following insights on creating a strong financial model:

3. Outlook

One-stop dispute resolution systems humanise legal procedures by giving people control over how their disputes will be resolved. They gradually escalate the dispute resolution process, starting from allowing the disputing parties to negotiate, to having a neutral third party intervention. In this journey, users of the platform have a range of available options via which they can resolve the problem, namely: negotiation, mediation and decision by a judge. The platforms also provide aftercare solutions to the disputing parties. The integration of technology into the dispute resolution processes makes the platforms not only user-centred but also accessible.  

One of the most pressing challenges in scaling one-stop shop dispute resolution systems is the submission problem. The most viable way of resolving this problem is by ensuring that governments make it mandatory for particular disputes. To protect the interests of users, governments need to form a committee that oversees the quality of the services provided by the platform. Governments also need to explore different forms of public-private partnerships to create synergies between the two. They need to outline the role that lawyers and judges can play in the new procedures. 

We expect the best platforms to start off by specialising in one dispute type, such as family (separation) or small claims disputes. By monitoring outcomes that the platform is able to provide users one this one dispute and thus demonstrating its effectiveness, the platform can make a case to expand its jurisdiction to other justice problems. 

The potential for one-stop shop dispute resolution platforms to increase access to justice for everyday people and businesses is considerable. To realise this potential, policymakers and legal professionals need to lead the way.

4. Authors

This policy brief was written by Kanan Dhru (Justice Innovation Advisor), Manasi Nikam (Knowledge Management Officer) and Prof Dr Maurits Barendrecht (Research Director) at HiiL

[1] Online Dispute Resolution Advisory Group, Online Dispute Resolution For Low Value Civil Claims, 2017, p.17.

[2] Richard Susskind, (2019). Online Courts and the Future of Justice.

[3] Amsler, L.B., Martinez, J.K., and Smith, S.E., (2020). Dispute System Design: Preventing, Managing and Resolving Conflict. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

[4]  Christopher Hodges, (2019). Delivering Dispute Resolution: A Holistic Review of Models in England and Wales.

[5]  Salter, S., & Thompson, D. (2017). Public-centred civil justice redesign: A case study of the British Columbia Civil Resolution Tribunal. McGill Journal of Dispute Resolution, 3, 2016-2017; Embly, L., Himonas, C., and Butler, S. (2020). Usability and court dispute resolution platforms. National Centre for State Courts.

[6] Salter, S., & Thompson, D. (2017). Public-centred civil justice redesign: A case study of the British Columbia Civil Resolution Tribunal. McGill Journal of Dispute Resolution, 3, 2016-2017.

[7] Ibid.

[8]  Steinberg, J. K. (2014). Demand side reform in the poor people’s court. Conn. L. Rev., 47, 741.

[9] Embly, L., Himonas, C., and Butler, S. (2020). Usability and court dispute resolution platforms. National Centre for State Courts.

[10] Salter, S., & Thompson, D. (2017). Public-centred civil justice redesign: A case study of the British Columbia Civil Resolution Tribunal. McGill Journal of Dispute Resolution, 3, 2016-2017.

[11] W. M. Landes and R. A. Posner, ‘Adjudication as a private good’, Journal of Legal Studies (1979), p. 235.

[12] Barendrecht, M. (2017). Rechtwijzer: Why online supported dispute resolution is hard to implement, ILAG Conference, HiiL.

[13] Barendrecht, J. M. (2012). Courts, competition and innovation. The Romanian Judges‘ Forum Review, 7(4), 44- 48.

[14] Niti Ayog, (2021). Designing the future of dispute resolution, the ODR policy plan for India.

[15] HiiL, (2020). Charging for Justice: SDG 16 Trend Report.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Kistemaker, L. (2021). Rechtwijzer and Uitelkaar. nl. Dutch Experiences with ODR for Divorce. Family Court Review, 59(2), 232-243.

[19] Kistemaker, L. (2021). Rechtwijzer and Uitelkaar. nl. Dutch Experiences with ODR for Divorce. Family Court Review, 59(2), 232-243.

[20] Henderson, B (2022). State Supreme Courts and the challenge of people law (287).

[21] Agami, (n.d). Online Dispute Resolution: Shifting from dispute to resolution.

[22] Ibid.

Case: Uitelkaar

CASE

Uitelkaar

Photo by Uitelkaar

Key fact and figures

Year of establishment
2017
Scope of service
Family (Divorce)
Geographical scope
The Netherlands
Legal entity
For profit company
Regulatory embeddedness
Under the Dutch Legal Aid Act, there is a special regulation for clients with lower income using the procedure offered by Uitelkaar. When eligible, Uitelkaar receives state-financed legal aid to support these clients, and clients only pay a small own contribution (of €37 or €74 per person). Furthermore, Uitelkaar is offered on the website Rechtwijzer, a preliminary provision operated by the Legal Aid Board that helps people find solutions for their legal problems in an interactive manner.
Number of affiliated staff members
16
Number of cases resolved
3835 clients
Potentially 24% of the market.
  • Clients without financial aid: 52%
  • Clients with financial aid: 48% – by way of a government regulation designed specially to OSSDR in the Netherlands.)
Citizen satisfaction
8.1 (out of 10)
Costs of services for citizens (average and range)
€37 – €450
Average processing time
25 weeks
Annual Budget
€1 million

Introduction

Online dispute resolution platforms that started off with resolving e-commerce disputes have slowly evolved into One Stop Shop Dispute Resolution platforms that resolve family disputes.   Uitelkaar.nl is one such One Stop Shop Dispute Resolution platform that uses technology to assist couples in obtaining a divorce or separation at an affordable price in The Netherlands. The platform is mainly suitable for couples who have low levels of conflict and are reasonably self-reliant. It provides end to end legal services for divorcing couples — from assembling required documents required to finalising the divorce to facilitating agreements on childcare and alimony. Mediators, case-managers and lawyers guide the separating couple through each step-by-step, thus combining technology with human assistance. 

Uitelkaar.nl was founded in 2017 by Laura Kistemaker, Kaspar Scheltema and Michel Scheltema with the objective of a) utilising online environment to support people in staying in the drivers’ seat when undertaking problem solving, b) utilising online environments to strengthen the self-efficacy of people by providing a clear and transparent structure, actionable legal information and support tools, all backed by a team of online and offline available professionals, and c) merging the information gathering, intake and inventorisation, dialogue and negotiation, mediation and adjudication to encourages a problem-solving attitude and help people in staying away from polarisation and escalation.

The platform offers three types of plans to users the cost of which ranges from 250 Euros to 500 Euros. Users can also purchase ‘add ons’ such as partner alimony calculation, organising child support, aftercare (legal services provided in the aftermath of the divorce), online advice regarding the housing situation and others. Users having low levels of income are eligible for subsidies.

Process of product development

The first version of Uitelkaar.nl  was championed by the then Legal Aid Board in the Netherlands. The Dutch Legal Aid Board and Ministry of Justice were seeking a new solution for divorce that a) would reduce costs of conflict, b) facilitate ownership of the solution, and c) reduce system costs. Hence, they provided initial funding and support to develop a platform called Rechtwijzer uitelkaar. To that end, they mobilised a broad range of stakeholders such as The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL), Modria — a software developer along with several  lawyers, mediators, legal services counter representatives, financial experts, communication experts, user experience/interaction designers, end-users among others. This platform dealt with divorce in The Netherlands, British Columbia and England & Wales, as well as landlord-tenant issues in The Netherlands.

Rechtwijzer uitelkaar was operational from 2013 to 2016. It was integrated with the Dutch government’s website ‘Rechtwijzer’ that provided users general information and pathways to support services on issues related to consumers, tenancy and debt. When the business model of Rechtwijzer uitelkaar did not prove to be financially viable, Laura Kistemaker, one of the founding members of the platform with the support of HiiL, transformed it into a private company titled ‘Justice42’. Justice42 was backed by social impact funding. The company Justice42 then launched Uitelkaar.nl. It was also supported by the Dutch Legal Aid Board but this time by subsidising the costs borne by couples who want to separate but cannot afford to pay for services provided by Uitelkaar by themselves.  

Uitelkaar.nl went live in 2017. Since then, the platform has been continuously expanded and improved. Examples are: addition of parenting plan and mediation (2018), diagnosis tool (2020), redesign of the platform (2021), aftercare (2021), technical integration of add ons (2021), children’s module (2021), modular texts (planned for 2022), assisted process (planned for 2022), connection to electronic court filing (planned for 2022).  

User-centred Design

A constant feedback loop with the clients has been built into the system with end-users having been involved in the entire process of the product design cycle. The platform automatically sends out surveys in different phases of the process and produces real time data visualisation in dashboards through PowerBI. This enables the team to analyse how people experience and interact with the platform. Extensive questionnaires are also integrated in the process and feed into data dashboards that are used to identify areas of improvement. 

The team of Uitelkaar also interviews end-users to understand their experience of using the platform. The platform has its own online community which serves as a sounding board for various services that the platform provides. 

Process of dispute resolution

Uitelkaar aims to facilitate discussions and agreements between the separating couple, deescalate disputes and help the separating couple in transitioning into a new kind of relationship. While the platform is automated and offers a digitally structured process, it also provides human assistance through case managers, lawyers and mediators. The process of using online dispute resolution services at Uitelkaar to initiate a divorce is as follows:

Submission problem

One of the challenges that Uitelkaar encounters is getting both parties to the dispute to agree on using the platform. In the Netherlands context, however, is that 80% of divorcing couples follow a less or more cooperative process.  The ODR process hence facilitates a majority of divorcing couples unless the submission problem is such that one partner may want to use the platform, whereas the other might want to go offline.

Impact

Uitelkaar has invested a lot in building and implementing an impact measurement matrix. New benchmarks are created even for the new additions or changes to evaluate whether they increase or decrease the impact. Reports that calculated the social return on investment indicated that for every Euro investment, social returns of 5.8 Euros were generated [1].

To monitor the satisfaction level of users, the platform sends automatic surveys at various stages of dispute resolution and aggregates the data on a real time basis on a Dashboard. After users complete the separation process, Uitelkar conducts another survey to understand whether the platform helped the users or disputing parties in moving on with their lives, in coping with negative emotions and in caring for their children [2].

Integration with the formal justice system

The organisation is periodically vetted by the Legal Aid Board. For this, it has to satisfy a long list of quality criteria. The vetting process allows the public authorities to refer to the platform, either digitally or through the legal aid service centres. 

The dispute resolution process is strictly speaking a fully private process: it is not formally embedded in the court system. The scope of the process is to support people to reach an agreement, which is formalised in the divorce plan. This plan can be submitted to the court (in The Netherlands, there is an option that one lawyer does this on behalf of both spouses). The court then approves and formalises the plan, i.e. the output follows the regular process. Uitelkaar is mentioned in the policies of the Dutch Legal Aid board, enabling lower income people to get part of the fees covered by a state subsidy. 

In general, integration into processes of partners in the ‘supply chain’ (organisations in the justice system) has been one of the biggest challenges. It takes a lot of lobbying and even when there is agreement, it takes long decision-making processes. As a one-stop-shop dispute resolution platform, Uiteklaar wants to create as many integrations that benefit the clients as possible. An example of an integration that recently took root is one with Legal Services Counters. Another one is with the governmental organisation responsible for maintenance allowance. Officers of this organisation now join a case on Uitelkaar to perform alimony calculations. They share the outcomes and communicate with clients through the platform. 

In theory, the courts could easily adopt a process like this, and integrate the different kinds of services in their process. The concerns that they might have mostly relate to the leading interpretation of the independence of the judiciary: rather than a conception of a neutral judge, the interpretation dictates that courts do not cooperate with other organisations in their primary processes.

Scaling

Acquisition costs are high due to the one-off character of divorce. Running costs of the platform are also high. Therefore, there is a need for volume. Currently, it is the online divorce platform that meets the criteria set by the Legal Aid Board. However, this is not communicated widely (for example on the government website pages about divorce). Competing with search engine rankings of government services, puts a strain on marketing budgets, while leaving citizens in the dark about governmental approval and quality of service. Other online divorce providers that demonstrably deliver less quality, but are not restrained by the Legal Aid Board criteria, are allowed to have a competitive advantage this way. In addition, these providers receive higher legal aid fees due to being allowed to follow a different financial legal aid scheme than the one UitElkaar is bound to. In order to be able to continue and scale the platform, it is needed that the government sets up a uniform regulatory system for all online divorce platforms and communicates widely which platform does meet the criteria. 

Enabling Environment

As mentioned before, Uitelkaar.nl was preceded by Rechtwijzer uitlelkaar. Rechtwijzer uitelkaar received positive reviews from its users and also received international recognition, but the Dutch bar association raised several concerns and asked the lawyers who collaborated with the platform on how they maintained duty of care. It was resistant to this new tool where the role of lawyers was being redefined from being a director of divorce procedures to that of facilitators and reviewers of divorce procedures. Eventually, the platform had to be shelved as it faced financial difficulties since the platform did not generate sufficient revenue via users and funding from the Dutch Legal Aid Board had also come to a stop. However the Dutch Legal Aid Board maintained its stance that it was open to innovations such as this one, but cannot itself be an innovator. 

Uitelkaar.nl was launched again by Laura Kistemaker and her associates in 2017 with the help of social impact funds. To show its support for the platform, the Dutch Legal Aid Board advertises the platform on its website Rechtwijzer. To be able to take advantage of this kind of advertisement, Uitelkaar.nl has to meet several criteria set out by the government. Another way the Dutch government supports Uitelkaar.nl is by subsidising the cost borne by low-income couples when using Uitelkaar.nl. However, Uitelkaar.nl wishes to receive more visibility via referrals made on several other government websites such as a Rechtwijzer (Kistemaker 2021). As for the response of lawyers to this new platform, they continue to have reservations about it.  

Other competitors in the market

Uitelkaar.nl is a preferred supplier for the digital divorce procedure.There are no competing ODR processes in the Netherlands for divorce that provide end-to-end legal services, with access to legal professionals, to couples who are undergoing separation. Another factor that sets Uitelkaar apart from other service providers is that it is vetted by the Dutch Legal Aid Board. Even so, non-ODR routes for divorce are currently available and are likely to exist for the foreseeable future in the Dutch context. They include :

Lessons learnt

Lessons learnt from the experience of setting up Uitelkaar are:

Critical Success Factors

Factors that played a critical role in the success of Uitelkaar are: 

Authors

This case has been developed by Laura Kistemaker and Jin Ho Verdonschot with suggestions from the HiiL team.

[1] Presentation by Laura Kistemaker to the working group members, 23 September 2022 [2] Ibid.

Kistemaker, L. (2021). Rechtwijzer and Uitelkaar. nl. Dutch Experiences with ODR for Divorce. Family Court Review, 59(2), 232-243.

Case: BC Civil Resolution Tribunal

CASE

British Columbia Civil Resolution Tribunal

One Stop Shop Dispute Resolution – Policy Brief / Case: British Columbia Civil Resolution Tribunal 

Key fact and figures

Year of establishment
2016
Scope of service
Condominium, small claims, non-profit and motor vehicle personal injury disputes.
Geographical scope
British Columbia, Canada
Legal entity
Administrative tribunal
Regulatory embeddedness
Authorised under the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal Act (part of the government)
Number of affiliated staff members
95
Number of cases resolved
Approximately 5,000 per year
Citizen satisfaction
According to the Participant Satisfaction Survey (2021), 80% felt the CRT’s online services weren’t difficult to use, 89% agreed the CRT provided information that prepared them for dispute resolution, 84% felt their CRT dispute was handled in a timely manner, 91% felt the CRT treated them fairly throughout the process. For more information, see the section on ‘Impact.
Costs of services for citizens (average and range)
$125 filing fee, further $100 fee if adjudication is necessary. Fee waiver for people with a low income.
Average processing time
Median small claims time to resolution is 57 days
Annual Budget
$15 million CAD

Introduction

The British Columbia Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT), formed in 2016, is the first online administrative tribunal in Canada and one of the first of its kind in the world. It is part of the formal justice system, and can resolve condominium, small claims, non-profit and vehicle accident disputes. Modelled on some of the private online dispute resolution platforms, for instance those of eBay or PayPal, the vision for the platform evolved to provide multi-channel service, with a focus on access to justice for vulnerable people. 

The BC Civil Resolution Tribunal was set up in response to the dissatisfaction that the owners of condominiums in British Columbia expressed with respect to the time, expense, and complexity of resolving their minor disputes at the BC Supreme Court. So the Ministry of Justice in British Columbia developed the idea of the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal as a more accessible way to resolve everyday disputes between citizens.

Process of establishing the platform

The process of developing the one stop shop dispute resolution platform included the Ministry of Justice, technology partner PricewaterhouseCoopers, a business analyst, a user experience expert and initial team that was leading the development of this platform. Together, the team used an agile development process which created room to do extensive user testing between sprints. The prototype was primarily tested with advocates who represent the most marginalised sections of society, including people who don’t speak English as a first language, new immigrants to Canada, people with physical or cognitive impairments, people with mental health issues, people with a low income, and others.  

After that, the prototype was tested with everyday people and lawyers to ensure that the legal information that this prototype provides to people was correct.  Because the technical aspects of the platform were also being developed at the same time, these two processes of user testing and technical development were able to integrate seamlessly.

The team always explores opportunities to improve services provided by the platform  through private software providers. Much of the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal is based on Microsoft 365 and other everyday computer applications. Off the shelf software, including Salesforce has been integrated to run the technical process smoothly. 

In addition to the survey, BC Civil Resolution Tribunal recently created short videos using fictional characters to show the user journey. One video gives information about ‘How to make a claim with BC Civil Resolution Tribunal’ and another on Accident Benefit

Services offered by the platform

The BC Civil Resolution Tribunal offers support to users in all stages of dispute resolution that the users are likely to experience. The first stage in the system is a free expert system called the Solution Explorer, which offers users free legal information and tools to resolve their problems. If the users need additional help, they can file an application for dispute resolution on the platform. As a starting point, the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal serves one of the parties in the dispute, and at the appropriate time, both parties are invited to negotiate. If the parties can resolve their dispute at the negotiation phase, it is turned into a binding court order. 

Many disputing parties need additional help, which is when a mediator steps in and helps them in reaching an agreement. If mediation fails, as a last resort, one of the tribunal members from the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal makes a binding decision based on the evidence and submissions. 

While the Solution Explorer and application form are online, the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal also has a human component in much of its services. This includes the intake staff, the mediators who work with the parties to achieve settlement, and the tribunal members who resolve disputes if that is unsuccessful.

Much of the focus of the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal is on providing the users with choices about where, when and how to resolve their disputes. It also emphasises on collaborative dispute resolution. 

The decisions and orders of the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal are electronically validated and emailed to the parties, unless they’ve requested a mailed copy. They then need to take the order to a court registry or other government agency in order to enforce it. 

Impact of the platform

The BC Civil Resolution Tribunal collects feedback from users via surveys. So far, the feedback on the services provided has been quite positive. According to the Participant Satisfaction Survey (2021), 

One of the users of the platform expressed his satisfaction with the services offered by the platform saying “BC Civil Resolution Tribunal provided an easy and user friendly process to get the dispute resolved.” Another user remarked that there is no need to involve lawyers and that the services provided are affordable. 

Role of enabling environment in the growth of the platform

The BC Civil Resolution Tribunal Act was created by the British Columbia Ministry of Justice, in response to a strong need in the condominium community for an accessible resolution method for everyday neighbour disputes. Because the platform was set up by the government itself, it did not encounter any regulatory barriers. It has exclusive jurisdiction over condominium, small claims and motor vehicle disputes disputes and the discretion to determine the method of hearing, among other procedural issues.

The platform coordinates with the courts to make sure they are aware of the format of the orders and understand how to make sure they are authentic. If users want to go directly to court without going through BC Civil Resolution Tribunal, there is a process in the legislation by which a person can apply to the court for an exemption, but this is almost never used.

Marketing strategy of the platform

The team at the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal initially used Google Ads to direct people with particular dispute types to the platform’s website, but that now happens organically as search engine rankings are optimised. Apart from Google Ads, the team also did a lot of outreach with community organisations, paid media, and community advocates.

Scaling strategy of the platform

The BC Civil Resolution Tribunal has scaled considerably over the last five years, gaining a new area of jurisdiction almost every year. Using the same general process and software, the platform has seamlessly scaled up by adding staff in proportion to new dispute volumes. The government’s decision to expand the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal’s jurisdiction to include new dispute areas was directly related to the tribunal’s success (reported monthly in participant satisfaction surveys) in providing accessible, understandable, timely, affordable, and fair access to justice.

Financial strategy of the platform

As a public sector body, the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal has faced challenges in receiving public funds that can be challenging in the current fiscal environment. Having said that, factors that help the platform in attracting funds are participant satisfaction, detailed data on case volumes and cost per case, as well as being able to demonstrate responsible use of taxpayer funds by operating a paperless, small footprint, remote operation. 

Apart from receiving funds from the government, the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal also charges an application fee to users. Because the platform’s aim is to keep its services affordable, the fee exemptions have been decided upon after conducting consultations with community legal advocates. 

Lessons learnt

Lessons that can be taken from the experience of setting up BC Civil Resolution Tribunal are:

Critical Success Factors

The factors has helped the BC Civil Resolution in scaling and improving its service delivery model are: 

Authors

This case has been developed by Shannon Salter with suggestions from the HiiL team.

Salter, S. (2017). Online Dispute Resolution and justice system integration: British Columbia’s BC Civil Resolution Tribunal. Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice / Recueil annuel de Windsor d’accès à la justice, 34(1), 112–129. 

BC Civil Resolution Tribunal (2021). Participant Satisfaction Survey, (blog).  

Case: Resolve Dispute Online

CASE

Resolve Dispute Online

One Stop Shop Dispute Resolution – Policy Brief / Case: Resolve Dispute Online

Key fact and figures

Year of establishment
2016
Scope of service
ODR, Access to Justice in the B2B Sector
Geographical scope
Global
Legal entity
Private company
Regulatory embeddedness
Independent of the government
Number of affiliated staff members
30
Citizen satisfaction
4 out of 5
Citizen impact reporting score
75%

Introduction

Resolve Disputes Online is a dispute resolution software that professionals, courts, tribunals, and Ombudsmen who provide alternative dispute resolution methods can use. Founded by Aditya Shivkumar and Joe Al-Khayat in 2016, Resolve Disputes Online has evolved from being a one stop stop dispute resolution centre that provides services to individual customers to being a dispute resolution software that hosts negotiation, mediation and arbitration. The software’s features include a case management system, secure file sharing, encrypted communications, brand integration and reporting of key statistics and performance indicators. Currently, Resolve Disputes Online has clients in the USA, South America, Africa, Australia and South East Asia. They include banks, insurance companies, solo practitioners, ombudsmen, alternative dispute resolution centres, courts and tribunals. 

Operating method

Resolve Disputes Online provides a software solution to businesses who in turn provide dispute resolution services to individual customers. In theory, it is a B2b2C business, but the company’s main clients are businesses. So, the company experience’s an enterprise sales cycle where negotiating with the customer and closing the deal takes upto three months. The Global Head of Sales gives a demo to the customer as a first step. Then, the Head of Product Development and Global Head of Sales interact with the customer to understand their requirements – this is the diagnosis phase. Then Resolve Disputes Online makes a plan to configure their software solution to match the needs of the customer. Once the customer is satisfied with the solution that is being offered, the two parties sign the contract. Thereafter, Resolve Disputes Online install the software in the IT systems of the client. 

Post installation, there is a two week period in which Resolve Disputes Online provides User Acceptance Testing. Here, the company trains the staff of the client company in using the software. Resolve Disputes Online encourages the client company to group its staff in user groups and assigns them different roles in relation to the product to ensure that the staff of the client company becomes familiar with the software. After that, the client can make the software public to its end consumers for the purpose of dispute resolution. 

For the duration that the client uses the software, Resolve Disputes Online provides them technical support. The company supports the client in relation to technology-based queries, any further configurations required in the software and in resolving the end consumer’s problems. For example, if the claimant and the defendant – who are the customers of the client to whom Resolve Disputes Online is providing the software – have a problem in using the platform, they need to go to the client company. They are the end consumer’s first point of contact. If the client company is unable to resolve the problem, it forwards it to the technical support team of Resolve Disputes Online. If the problem is not resolved by the technical support team, then the Product Development team of Resolve Disputes Online takes care of it. 

Therefore, unlike online dispute resolution platforms that provide services to consumers (B to C) where the consumer for the most part learns to use the platform on their own, Resolve Disputes Online has to hand hold the client for the entire duration of their collaboration.

Scaling

In 2011, the founders started off by providing mediation services in the UK via an online platform to consumers. Within three years, they realised that the market for this service was not ripe yet. This led them to develop Resolve Disputes Online that provides an online software for businesses instead of individual consumers. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the demand for online dispute resolution as a result of which the demand for ready-made dispute resolution software increased. Along with courts, tribunals and business, of late, solo practitioners have also begun using Resolve Dispute Online’s software. To sum up, Resolve Disputes Online has a clientele that includes courts, tribunals, alternative dispute resolution centres, banks, insurance companies, fast moving consumer goods companies and solo practitioners from all over the world. 

In the past one year, Resolve Disputes Online has also moved from being a customisable software to a configurable software as a result of which it can provide its products a diverse clientele. In short, adapting the product is also helping Resolve Disputes Online in achieving scale. 

Financial sustainability

Initially, when the company offered B to C services, it was entirely funded by the two co-founders and had to tackle scarcity of funds. Once Resolve Disputes Online began providing B to B services, it attracted more users as well as funds from investors. Over a period of time, Resolve Disputes Online entered into stable partnerships with courts, tribunals, alternative dispute resolution centres from all over the world, which stabilised their revenue model. 

Marketing

The founders have consciously chosen to not market their product, they prefer to rely on word of mouth publicity. They believe that given that the online dispute resolution industry is still up and coming, a good product will attract attention with ease. This is proved by the fact that the majority of the pilots that the company conducted for clients, eventually converted into large scale projects. Having said that, while the company does not engage potential customers on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, it does bring together important stakeholders via round table discussions to gain visibility and to create awareness about the merits of ODR.

Enabling Environment

A company like Resolve Disputes Online that provides software for dispute resolution is not as affected by rules and regulations as a platform that provides dispute resolution services would be. It has been able to function in different jurisdictions in the world with ease. However, for Resolve Disputes Online to scale exponentially, more courts, tribunals, and countries need to embrace online dispute resolution as one of the core components of the justice system.  

Aditya Shivkumar, the co-founder of Resolve Disputes Online suggests 

“Countries like India must have a centre, led by a chief justice innovation officer, that is dedicated to justice innovation in their formal justice system. The chief judicial innovation officer should promote innovation and technology in the justice system and the centre should be assigned the authority to digitise the rules and procedures of the formal justice system. This will also ensure uniformity, consistency and standardisation in the approach taken by courts in India when it comes to adoption of technology. For instance, a few Lok Adalats (alternative dispute resolution platforms) in India have begun using online dispute resolution technology, but not all. Similarly, the High Court in the state of Kerala went paperless in 2021, but the rest of the high courts in the country have not.”

Moreover, countries should set aside a separate budget to digitise the justice system which will enable them to purchase the softwares such as that of Resolve Disputes Online. For example, the UK government has earmarked 1 billion pounds to digitise court services. More initiatives like these where governments have the bandwidth to budget for online dispute resolution platforms, along with a centre that can institutionalise use of technology in the justice system are needed. 

Lessons learnt

The main lessons that can be taken from the experience of setting up Resolve Disputes Online is to adapt the product to fit the need and demand in the market. The first venture of the founders of Resolve Disputes Online was a B to C company that provided online, dispute resolution services such negotiation, mediation and arbitration. But in 2011, the market for online dispute resolution was not ripe. Therefore, the founders switched to providing a software solution to businesses, which had more takers than the previous B to C model.

Critical Success Factors

Factors that played a critical role in the success of Resolve Disputes Online are: 

Authors

This case has been developed by Manasi Nikam from the HiiL team after interviewing Aditya Shivkumar. The two interviews were held on November 9, 2021 and January 21, 2022.

Case: Utatuzi Center

CASE

Utatuzi Center

Photo by Utatuzi center

Key fact and figures

Year of establishment
2020
Scope of service/ Type of justice problems addressed
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR):
  • mSMEs
  • Property/Real Estate
  • Individuals
Geographical scope
Kenya
Legal entity
Private company
Regulatory embeddedness
Independent of the government but have a working relationship with the formal justice system
Number of affiliated staff members
18
Number of cases resolved
30
Costs of services for citizens (average and range)
US$200
Tiered retainer
Average processing time
2 weeks to 2 months depending on complexity, compared to an average of 3-5 years for real estate disputes in the Kenyan courts

Introduction

Known as the ‘Silicon Savannah’, Kenya has become a hot spot for tech-based start-ups. Utatuzi Centre is one such start-up based in Nairobi that offers mediation and arbitration services facilitated by an online platform to small, medium and large businesses. Founded by three lawyers – Miururi Wanyoike, Josephine Wairumi and Erastus Njaga, the aim of Utatuzi Centre is to provide a convenient, affordable and effective way of resolving disputes. 

Process of dispute resolution

While Utatuzi provides technological assistance such as the online platform, video-conferencing software and case management software, professionals who work in alternative dispute resolution work with disputing parties to resolve their problem. This combination of technology and alternative dispute resolution methods is what sets Utatuzi Centre apart from its competitors.

Disputing parties can choose from 150 mediators and 90 arbitrators with whose help they would like to resolve the dispute. These professionals are not full-time employees of Utatuzi Centre, they also work independently outside of the Centre. Although Utatuzi Centre is an online dispute resolution platform, mediators meet parties to the dispute in person if required. 

User-centred approach

Knowing the importance of user-friendly platforms in service delivery, the founders took several steps to ensure that the Centre remains user-friendly. Given that a significant percentage of the population does not have access to the internet and internet-enabled devices (40%), the Centre assists customers in using the case management software and online platform. It has also developed a video-conferencing platform that allows users to participate in a call by clicking on a link, unlike Zoom and Google which require the user to go through additional steps such as downloading an application or signing up. 

Utatuzi also collects feedback from users on the interface and ease of use of the online platform as well as on the satisfaction of users with the mediators to be able to improve the platform. However, information on how this feedback is used to improve the services provided is not available.

Financial sustainability

Utatuzi Centre has received grants from justice accelerators in the past. It also takes user fees from customers for the services they offer. On an average, the company charges 200 USD on a tiered retained basis where the fee is also dependent on the customer’s core business, revenue, team size, duration of existence, frequency and value of the disputes. As of now, Utatuzi Centre has resolved 30 cases so the revenue from user fees is quite low. This is because although the judiciary in Kenya is in favour of alternative dispute resolution systems, the people in the country have not embraced it yet. They still prefer resolving disputes using adversarial dispute resolution methods offered by courts. 

To increase the demand for their services, Utatuzi Centre is reaching out to potential customers via social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. So far, this strategy has not proved wholly successful. 

Given that Utatuzi Centre is still in nascent stages of growth, the founders believe that exploring funding from investors such as venture capitalists or impact investors is not an option at this stage. Moreover, they note that managing the expectations of investors who wish to see very high growth rates in the business, becomes difficult for an enterprise that is just taking off.

Regulatory environment

The usage of alternative dispute resolution methods is promoted in Kenya as it has a high potential in reducing the backlog of cases in courts. But there are no specific regulations that support or regulate private alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as the Utatuzi Centre. 

On the other hand, at times lawyers advise everyday people to go to court instead of using mediation to resolve disputes, to protect their self-interest. 

Conclusion

Set up in 2020, Utatuzi Centre is in the process of expanding its services and reaching out to more users as well as investors that can help in funding the platform. While developing the platform, the founders learnt the importance of adapting the platform to the needs of the users. They provide offline services and provide assistance to users in using the case management software. 

Some of the challenges that Utatuzi Centre faces are attracting users, changing the mindset of everyday people as well as lawyers and encouraging them to use alternative dispute resolution mechanisms  and attracting investments from private funders. 

As the justice sector and people throughout the world are experiencing change and embracing innovation, it would be interesting to see how this Kenyan one stop shop dispute resolution charts out its path to scale.  

Authors

This case has been developed by Manasi Nikam from the HiiL team after interviewing Muiruri Wanyoike, Josephine Wairimu and Erastus Njaga on November 16, 2021.